Andrew Thomas' Top Donors: We Crunch the Numbers

Categories: News analysis
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In this week's print edition, New Times examines Maricopa County Attorney Andrew Thomas' habit of hiring pricey outside lawyers -- and then letting them run up huge bills for less than stellar work.

We couldn't help but notice that some of the same firms billing the county for the biggest sums are also major donors to Thomas' campaign. But since county campaign finance records aren't itemized, we couldn't quite tally who was giving what. Until, that is, we spent our Thanksgiving break building an Excel database of all 1,660+ of Thomas' contributors.

The bad news is that we now have some major carpal tunnel syndrome going on. The good news is, we consider that a small price to pay, because now we can punch in any name, or any employer, and tell you exactly what they've donated to Thomas since he first ran for county attorney in 2004.

The big surprise? Thomas' former boss and go-to lawyer Dennis Wilenchik isn't tops on the donor list. That honor goes to ... the Maricopa County Attorney's Office! You read that right: Despite his penchant for using outside lawyers, Thomas' most generous donations have come from inside his own staff. Employees of the County Attorney's Office and their family members have donated $20,145 to Thomas' campaigns in 2004 and 2008.

One reason might be admiration for their boss. Another possibility? Ambition. As New Times' Paul Rubin reported in 2005, one of Thomas' first moves on taking office was demoting a respected sex-crimes prosecutor. Thomas then promoted some new "special assistants" who -- surprise surprise -- show up on his pre-election donor list.

One of those new appointees, Mark Goldman, has donated $10,810 to Thomas' campaigns, along with his wife, according to records. That makes the Goldman family the single biggest donor to Thomas' campaign.

But the Goldmans' contributions are dwarfed by the combined tallies from some of the area's biggest employers.

The top outside law firm donating to Thomas was Burch & Cracchiolo, whose employees gave Thomas $17,580. Next? Jones Skelton Hochuli, with $8,055 in donations.

Both firms have benefited. Burch & Cracchiolo has earned $3 million in legal fees since Thomas took office; Jones Skelton has raked in a tidy $5.9 million.

Next on the list of generous law firms:
* Ridenour Hienton Kelhoffer employees and their families have donated $5,610 to Thomas. (They also earned $452,201 in county work.)
* Snell & Wilmer employees gave $5,370. (They earned $563,504.)
* Finally, employees at Olson Jantsch & Bakker donated $4,480, although they don't seem to have benefited much: county records show the firm has made less than $1,000 representing the county in recent years.

Now, it's not only law firms that give to Thomas. The top donors outside the legal industry were employees at local bohemoth VIAD Corp. They've kicked in $9,400 to Thomas' campaigns. Also generous? Political consultant Nathan Sproul, whose employees and family members have combined to give Thomas $5,490 in his two runs for county attorney.

We also noticed, for the first time, the plethora of donations from Nicholas Fergis. A self-described investor, Fergis surfaced earlier this year in the SCA campaign finance scandal, when records revealed that he'd wired $10,000 to a bank account controlled by Maricopa County sheriff's officers. (The money was eventually funneled to the State GOP, which failed to disclose the source, and then funneled it to nasty attack ads on the men who dared to run against Thomas and Sheriff Joe Arpaio.)

As it turns out, Fergis isn't just a fan of the sheriff's deputies to whom he wired the money. He's also a big bundler for Andrew Thomas. Our analysis shows that Fergis and nearly a dozen family members -- including family of his wife, Anh, gave the max to Thomas in 2006.

The Fergis' donations total $2,960, according to our analysis.

Thomas also felt some love from Steve Ellman, the longtime Friend-of-Arpaio who supplied fat checks to the SCA fund. Ellman and his employees didn't donate anything to Thomas during his initial run for county attorney in 2004, but they kicked in $1,950 last time around. And that's in addition to all that support that was laundered through the SCA committee. (Ha ha ha!)

Finally, we'd be remiss not mentioning a very large source of Thomas' fundraising power during his most recent run: a group of Middle Eastern shop owners. They and their families kicked in a combined $16,717 to support Thomas' 2008 campaign. A group of self-described real-estate investors, also with Middle Eastern names, donated an additional $1,690.

We're not sure why these guys, in particular, like Thomas so much, but we did notice that a number of them own liquor stores -- and that Don Isaacson, the main lobbyist for the liquor industry in Arizona, shows up on Thomas' campaign finance report around the same time. Hmmm ...

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